Pippa Goldschmidt, our writer in residence this year at the festival, explores a few Martian themes.

 

This year’s festival got off the ground with the first of the Wigtown Lectures on the theme of ‘Small world, big world’ as Lee Graham from NASA gave us the insider’s story on space missions, including Curiosity; the latest mission to go to Mars.

 

This is a tale of terrifying odds against success; to land something the size of a small car onto the surface of what we know to be an inhospitable planet takes meticulous planning and a fair amout of luck. Beagle 2 was launched with huge expectations in 2003 but failed to make contact once it reached Mars, and presumably crashed on landing.

 

Fortunately, Curiosity has landed safely and is already sending back stunning images of Martian landscapes.

 

And in honour of the writer Ray Bradbury, who died recently, the NASA scientists have named Curiosity’s landing place Bradbury crater. One of Saturday’s events was a homage to Bradbury, examining his work and legacy. He’s been categorised as a science fiction writer and placed in a genre which often celebrates technological developments but one of his most famous novels; Fahrenheit 451 depicts a grim world in which books are banished and humans consequently lose their intellectual capacity to reason and argue. He’s a fitting author to celebrate at this festival.